Something I’ve rarely seen mentioned in personal development books is intelligent advice on how to develop and maintain strong technical skills. At best you’ll see email, PDAs, and a few other basic tools mentioned, but that’s about it. Even children can use email though.
Solid technical skills are becoming increasingly important, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. While computers have become easier to use in many ways, the leading edge is more complicated than ever. This complexity scares many people away from developing their technical skills, but let’s consider some of the reasons you may want to go beyond the basics.
Here are some of the advantages strong technical skills can offer you:
1. Enjoy significantly higher paying work.
Whether you’re employed or self-employed, strong technical skills allow you to leverage technology to the hilt, and that leverage pays. The better you understand the technology you use, the more value you can efficiently extract from it. People gladly open their wallets to pay those with in-demand technical skills.
2. Save money.
You’ll save money every time you can solve a technical problem on your own instead of having to hire someone at a high hourly rate. This can add up to substantial savings over time.
You can also save money by taking advantage of low-cost, high-tech solutions. For example, using VOIP Internet phone service will save you a bundle over traditional phone service, and it only takes a minor amount of technical skill to install. I actually disconnected my whole house from the telephone company’s lines, so I could use all the inside jacks for VOIP.
3. Save time.
You’ll save time by solving technical problems quickly instead of scratching your head in confusion. There are many technical problems that baffle novices but which require only a quick fix from someone with adequate technical skills.
I find it unfortunate when a friend gets ripped off after taking their computer to a repair outlet, when the problem could have been solved in a few seconds. Ignorance can be costly.
4. Prevent problems.
You’ll prevent problems before they occur by intelligently maintaining and upgrading your technology. Even a simple skill like keeping your video and sound drivers up-to-date can prevent compatibility problems down the road, especially if you play computer games.
5. Reduce frustration.
Technology isn’t particularly frustrating if you understand how it works. A lack of understanding is frustrating. If something breaks, and you know how and why it broke, then it’s just a fact to be dealt with rather than an act of divine cruelty.
6. Make intelligent technology purchases.
I don’t know many geeks who buy their computers at retail stores. It’s a lot smarter to buy online if you know what to look for. You’ll get better value, higher quality components, and more control over the final product.
A fun project I did in 2004 was to build my own PC from scratch. I handpicked each component and ordered everything online. I built the equivalent of a $2000 retail PC for about $900. I used PriceWatch to find great deals on all the components, and I followed the step-by-step assembly instructions from My Super PC. I’ve been very pleased with its performance over the past couple years.
Since technology depreciates so rapidly, and since component quality can vary widely, knowing how to buy great value at a great price is a very practical skill. With most rapidly advancing components like CPUs, hard drives, and video cards, there’s a fairly narrow price-performance sweet spot. Spend too little, and you’re throwing money away on obsolescent goods. Spend too much, and you’re overpaying for imperceptible performance gains. Decent technical knowledge can help you target those sweet spots with all your technology purchases, so you get the best bang per buck.
7. Empower yourself.
I remember thinking how great it was in high school when I began using a decent word processor while many other students were still using typewriters. Editing was certainly much easier, so I got more done in less time.
Today it’s almost ridiculous how much technology can do. You can use your computer to manage your whole life now, including your finances, your calendar, and your entertainment. Knowing how to use technology can add tremendous richness to your life. But if you lack the technical skills, you’ll probably find it way too complicated to extract this value in a reasonable amount of time.
8. Access information efficiently.
Whenever you want to know something now, you can go online and get the information in seconds. Sites like Google, Wikipedia, and WikiHow truly place information at your fingertips, but it still takes a bit of technical skill to craft intelligent queries when you’re searching for something obscure.
Need to buy a new suit? Want to see what movies are playing near you? Want to become an early riser? If someone has figured it out, it’s probably online. With an internet connection at hand, we all become walking Wikipedias.
9. Earn money online.
This is one of the coolest benefits of technical know-how. With the right technical skills, you can build your own income-generating web site. Your computer (or some online server) will work tirelessly to make you money 24/7. Even if it just pays for your coffee, that’s still better than buying your own coffee, isn’t it? If it fails, at least you learned something, and you can certainly try again. But what if it really works? You might not need a job for the rest of your life. That seems like a pretty good reason to go for it.
Given how disgustingly cheap technology is, I think it’s silly not to devote at least one of the millions of machines on this planet to the task of paying your bills. Most computers are just sitting there idle waiting for something to do, so put some of those resources to good use. I’m not talking about getting VC money and trying to make the next Google. My suggestion is to start a simple web business you can run by yourself in your spare time with no expenses except web hosting (no more than $20/month).
I’ve been earning income online since 1995, and I love it. It does require some technical skill to build an income-generating web site, but those skills are highly learnable, and it’s a lot easier today than it was 10 years ago. (For example, see How to Make Money From Your Blog). Sure I can write well enough, but without the technical skills to build traffic, this site would be a ghost town. I do the creative work, technology handles the grunt work, and visitors benefit from the value provided. It’s a pretty nice system.
10. Feel more confident and comfortable with technology.
Competence builds confidence. As you develop your technical skills, you’ll feel more comfortable with all forms of technology. This will encourage you to branch out and leverage technology even more. You can listen to audio books on your portable MP3 player, take pictures with your digital camera, and so on. You’ll feel in control of technology instead of intimidated by it.
The more technical experience you gain, the faster you’ll adapt to new technology. You may fall behind the curve at some point, but you’ll quickly catch up with a few days’ research.
Like it or not, strong technical skills are of major importance today. Don’t let yourself be caught on the wrong side of the technology fence.
No doubt you’re now wondering, “OK, that’s all fine and dandy, Steve, but how do I develop my technical skills if I wasn’t born a natural geek?” Never fear — I’ll address that in a future article.